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  • Writer's pictureMatthias

Brutalism and the future of the past

"New Belgrade" is not only Belgrade's biggest, but also its greenest district. Plus most of its shopping centers are located here, amidst huge old apartment blocks that exude a touch of 1970s science fiction. For many citizens that still makes a more attractive living environment than the either unrenovated or overly expensive apartments in Stari Grad, the "old town". That doesn’t mean NBG is cheap though – demand does raise rents among other things, after all...

A little warning at this point: if you come to Novi Beograd for the first time after having spent a few days in Belgrade’s old part, you might easily experience a minor culture shock. Instead of formerly splendid old mansions uphill and downhill on narrow streets, here you will find flat, wide avenues framed by huge socialist apartment blocks and modern malls – only the rattling old busses and trams stay the same. First plans for a development of the west bank of the Sava river were created in 1923 but after World War II interrupted those, New Belgrade's foundation was eventually laid on April 11, 1948 – today celebrated as Day of the Municipality. But Novi Beograd does have older roots as well. As early as during the Neolithic Age there was a Serbian village of 32 houses on the territory of today's Bežanijska Kosa.


It's actually best to jump on a rental bike for your tour, since the 41 km² area isn't only very flat which makes cycling less of a torture than in Stari Grad, it also happens to be blessed with an extensive cycle path network. However, those lanes are not always noticed (or respected) by the mostly non-cycling population – so keep your eyes open and your bell finger at the ready!


After crossing Brankov Bridge (Brankov most) you will first encounter Ušće Park with the Museum of Contemporary Art (Muzej savremene umetnosti) at its green heart. Opened in 1965 and reopened after ten years of renovation in 2017 the museum itself is – in addition to its constantly changing exhibitions – an architectural work of art worth checking out. Following a little detour to the Eternal Flame (Večna vatra), memorial to the victims of the NATO bombing of 1999, you can already see the Palace of Serbia (Palata Srbije), one of the first buildings in this district and a compelling proof of that Brutalist sci-fi item mentioned above. Completed in 1959 after twelve years of construction and with 5,500 m² Belgrade's largest building by area the former office of the Yugoslav president is now home to several ministries. Inside the ferroconcrete structure with marble facade there are six parlors, each with the traditional motives and characteristic details of one of the former Yugoslav republics that used to house their respective representatives – in a room size proportional to each state's area.

Photo by Sanja Kostić

Right across the palace the 'Meander', the longest residential building in all of former Yugoslavia, meanders through Blok 21, 972.5 m long. It's not the only building with a fitting nickname like that. There is also 'Six corporals' (Šest kaplara, where mainly military and their families lived), 'TV' (Televizor, due to the unconventional windows), 'Three sisters' (Tri sestre, obviously three identical buildings) and 'Horseshoe' (Potkovica, make a wild guess). Thanks to its various gigantic apartment blocks Novi Beograd is one of the world's most important examples of urban Modernism, alongside Brasilia and the Indian Chandigarh. On the other hand the wide streets and the wide spaces between them follow the concept of architect icon Le Corbusier, who called space, air and sun the most important elements of urban development and who didn't consider shadow to be absolutely necessary (I guess he never spent a summer in Belgrade). Ironically according to legend the world heritage designer once called Belgrade the ugliest city in the world at the most beautiful spot in the world.


Only 2 km away from Blok 21, directly by the Danube, there's the historic Hotel Jugoslavija, often said to be synonymous with the history of that country – from its rise and peak to its decay. It's only partially used today and not much has been invested into its cringy kitsch interior. In case you're up for a fast bite after, Goce Delčeva street close by is filled with diners and snack stands – hence its nickname "Hunger street“. One of the most iconic places is Šiš ćevap where you should definitely try the pljeskavica, the Serbian version of a burger.

Photo by Sanja Kostić

Newly invigorated it's time to meet Novi Beograd's undisputed Queen, including a very literal crown: the Brutalist Genex Tower, designed in 1977 and known as western city gate. As of 2021 the 115 m structure is still Belgrade’s second-tallest one after the Ušće Tower (which is also 115 m, but blatantly cheated itself up to 141 m with an antenna). The most distinctive and impressive feature of the skyscraper, originally built for the import-export company Genex, is its two-part structure connected by a skybridge on the 26th floor. Since the revolving restaurant inside has closed in 2013 the tower has mainly been used as a film and photo location and as such plays a leading role in the music video "Netzwerk" by Austrian electronic duo Klangkarussell.


Your final ride takes you down to the Sava promenade of Blok 70 where you can reward yourself with a coffee or a sundowner by the water on one of the bar rafts (splavs) there - but maybe make a reservation ahead. Keep in mind to cycle past the Sava Center. Opened in 1979 it is not only an impressive example of futuristic 1970s architecture (and always reminds me personally of production designer Ken Adam’s creations for the James Bond film Moonraker), but also the largest congress and event center in Serbia as well as one of the largest in Europe. In addition to political conferences and European congresses, it also houses concerts and international festivals such as the Belgrade Film FEST or back in 2008 the ESC.


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